Acedia, the Noonday Devil
“Nice to meet you, noonday devil”
Acedia, the Noonday Devil.
If you have read the literature of the Desert Fathers, you must have heard of it. For years, it was understood as one of the capital sins renamed “laziness”. It is a flattening out, a lack of energy, that puts you into a semi-vegetative state that simply numbs all deep feeling and thoughts. But recently, theologists began to face this spiritual literature with the insights of contemporary psychology; and here, Acedia is not seen as a mere clinical case nor an ordinary depression.
Interestingly enough, the symptoms of Acedia turn to be the result of a healthy instinctual reflex of our bodies and minds which, when they are not given something they need, sometimes forcefully shut us down, much like an ordinary depression shuts someone down; except that in the case of Acedia, the shutdown of energy is for the sake of health.
In other terms, Lauren M. Wuest , the specialist in the famous Jungian school of thought, explains : sometimes when we don’t sit down on our own and give our bodies and minds the rest, nourishment, and space they need, our bodies and minds conspire together to sit us down, forcibly. In essence, that’s Acedia, and it’s for our own health!
As a psychologist, Lauren didn’t go into the ramifications of this conclusion for sake of spirituality, but theologians did: It has to do with the practice of “Sabbath” in our lives!
‘Keeping the sabbath’ = is more than a commandment, it is a healthy practice suggested in the early sections of the book of Genesis in which God is portrayed as “resting” on the sabbath after the creation of the world. Till recently, this practice has been more and more disappearing within our culture.
But God’s advice for adapting the sabbatical rhythm is for the sake of our lives; and it works this way: we work for six days, and then have a one day sabbatical; we work for seven years, and then have a one-year sabbatical; we work for seven times seven years, and then have a Jubilee year- a sabbatical for the entire planet; and after working for a lifetime, we go on an eternity of sabbatical.
In this rhythm, while recognizing that God is the source of life and He sustains it, there is a biblical invitation to lay down the hammer, put away our “busy” schedules, where it seems that all the time, we lack time! Because neglecting the sabbath is eventually harmful for spiritual, psychic, and bodily health. And, weird enough, whenever we don’t do it voluntarily, our bodies and minds are likely to do it for us by shutting down our energies. Acedia becomes a friend here: inserting the sabbatical rhythm that we have deserted.
Nowadays, while economic crisis is affecting our daily “busy” timetables especially that Coronavirus is continuing its spread across the world … another kind of Acedia, is spotted here : so let us lay down not only our agendas, but also our over- worries and simply contemplate, pray, and let God be God. Let us “Look at the birds of the air… and how our heavenly Father feeds them…” let us “ Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:26-34)
Is this a call for being lazy or irresponsible? Surely not!
But let us discern the sabbatical call in these harsh conditions that we are going through. And most importantly, let us realize the importance of breaking our addiction to “playing God”. May we realize that in life we will meet challenges that cannot be resolved by simply gritting our teeth or even trying harder. While masks cover faces and ambiguity masks the future let us put our trust and security beyond our own personal competence or the competence of others. The truth is that none of these things hold water. May we place ourselves in Sabbath-mode and practice the asceticism needed to curb our unhealthy addictions. May we understand that while we are unable to perform anything God is always our provider.
“It was meant evil against me, but God used it for good” Says (Genesis 50:20), so let Acedia’s new face renovate our faith.